Monday, August 25, 2008

Behold the sandwich!

Everyone eats sandwiches. We throw them together at home, buy them in a thousand varieties daily, munch them while driving or sitting on a bench during lunch hour or at a sports event. What we do not do, generally, is be creative in the ones we make for ourselves.

As a believer, like Food Network’s Alton Brown, in eschewing “mono-tasking” appliances in the kitchen, we do not own a panini press. Yet we make panini quite often. We grill sandwiches, we toast bread for sandwiches, and we even eat them with the bread fresh and un-fooled-around-with. A snooty aside: "panino" is one sandwich, "panini", 2 or more.

Peter and I eat lunch at home every day (with rare exceptions) since he left the employ of Opera Colorado earlier this year. Lunch, the majority of the time, consists of a sandwich and some fruit salad. Almost never do we repeat the same sandwich the same way. There are just too many opportunities for variations. The first variable is the bread itself. Our Safeway will sell us slices of panini bread or focaccia. They have loaves of sourdough, cheese or onion rolls, and a plethora of other breads.

Our newest favorite is made locally (Denver) by Udi’s. It’s not a soft kind of bread. It’s moderately dense and well suited to grilling or pressing. There are few rules. If the filling is to be something eaten cold (egg salad, chicken salad, etc.), we leave the bread alone. If we have some cold cuts and cheese, or sliced beef and cheese (read Philly cheesesteak) we’ll often make panini. How, without a press?

The answer is so simple that it rates a 10 on the “duh-factor” scale. Using a steel skillet, or our non-stick skillet or frying pan, we coat the bread with butter or olive oil, top it with a sheet of foil, and weight it down with the tea kettle. By the way, for panini we use olive oil, for grilled sandwiches we use butter.

The cooking time is fairly rigid: 4 minutes on the first side and then 3-4 on the second side. This is the same for pressed and grilled alike and the time is merely a function of crisping and coloring the bread.

Now, let’s get down to the heart of the matter: what will the sandwich be today or yesterday or tomorrow? For us, this is determined by something in the fridge, generally speaking – leftovers. A few days ago we had grilled chicken and pork cutlets on successive nights. There was some of each left. I chopped up the meat and mixed it with a couple of spicy little red peppers, a stalk of celery, some corn and tomato relish we had made from fresh ingredients as a variation to corn on the cob, some mayonnaise, salt and pepper. We ate it with some romaine lettuce on untoasted Udi’s sourdough. It was stunning.

In conversation with an acquaintance yesterday at a tennis match, I pointed out that if you find three things in your fridge that, individually you really like, you can find a way to make a meal or sandwich, combining them in an inventive way. This chicken/pork salad followed that axiom precisely. I guess it tasted pretty much like chicken salad as that was the larger quantity of the two meats. You don’t have to have corn relish, you probably have something else you could use. You don’t actually need anything other than the meats and some mayo. Add a little Dijon or other mustard for a bit of a zing.

I was inspired to write about the sandwich by a miraculous creation that came about completely serendipitously 2 days ago. I may have mentioned picking up a package of brats from the sale bin? There were 6 of them. I kept 2 in the fridge and froze the other 4 in 2 packages of 2.

Using the stovetop grill, I cooked them through, turning them often. The ridges on the grill helped keep them upright when they curled a little. They would have curled more if I hadn’t pierced them 3 or 4 times with the tip of a paring knife. When they were nearly done (and I could easily have done this sooner and speeded up the cooking time), I sliced them lengthwise just enough so that they would open up flat on the cooking surface. When they were all cooked through, we assembled our ‘wiches, using the last of a previous Udi’s loaf, a garlic and something bread. First went down a slice of cheese, the type doesn’t matter – whatever ya' got. Next came the brats, open and flat on their backs. Next some of the corn and tomato relish (pickle relish sounds good, too), and then another slice of cheese.

Putting cheese on both the top and bottom translates into the sandwich holding together better when you flip it over.

We brushed olive oil on both outside surfaces of the bread (before assembly) and grilled them for the requisite time as noted above. We took our first bite … and we both groaned with an almost carnal pleasure. Peter immediately said to me, “get two more of those suckers out of the freezer for tomorrow!” I concurred absolutely. We didn’t eat the other brats the next day, we decided to use up that chicken and pork. However, today will be a tiny violation of our general rule on repeating things – we will recreate those brat panini precisely. Oops, that's not quite true. Our cheese is different today.

My mouth is watering and I note that the current time is 10:56 MDT. Exactly 1 hour and 4 minutes to go before I close my teeth around that sandwich. Eat your heart out.

Do you like cheesesteaks? Who doesn't? If you have some leftover steak or roast beef, slice it thin, cook some onion just until softened, warm up the meat and put it all together with cheese in a roll of some kind or, as we do when we have them, in a flour tortilla you've warmed on the stove or even in the microwave.

That's enough for today. Go press yourself a sandwich!

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